Analysis of Cup draw

Wednesday, July 16 2008 @ 03:30 pm ACST

Contributed by: Brett Northey

The 2008 Australian Football International Cup draw puts 16 teams into 4 pools of 4. We look at how the seedings unfolded and a few of the issues surrounding what is, however, a pretty fair system.

It's a standard tournament format and makes for a good system, but does have two major drawbacks. It pits some of the world's least developed football nations against the very best (outside of Australia). And assuming the form hasn't changed markedly since 2005, it's unlikely that the first three rounds will see any blockbuster matches between the top teams - in fact there will be some awfully large losses dished out.

Based on expected form, it looks like a fairly clear run for the big four from 2005, i.e. New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the United States and Ireland. The toughest semi-final position to win may well be in Pool C, where the Stars and Stripes of the US Revolution will have to contend with the rising stars from South Africa. If they have improved the Africans may challenge the Americans, but if not the Danes may even give the South African Lions a run for their money. Other likely pivotal matches include Round 2's Samoa versus Japan, and Nauru versus Great Britain.

The pools:

RankPool APool BPool CPool D
1New ZealandPNGUSAIreland
2SamoaGreat BritainSouth AfricaCanada
3JapanNauruDenmarkSweden
4IndiaPeace TeamChinaFinland

Concern

The concern for the newest nations is a real one. Although teams such as India and China will feature proud sportsmen from their countries, there's no doubt that Aussie Rules is a hard and uncompromising sport. Anyone who has played the game knows that you have to learn to protect yourself - the ability to take a hip and shoulder is a crucial skill. With India, China and the Peace Team featuring players we believe mostly have less than 12 months experience, and perhaps only two or three matches to their names, how will they fare against the world's strongest sides? With their Rugby background and big bodies the Samoans can be expected to be very powerful tacklers. Likewise the US feature many large, gym-hardened physiques and play a very brutal style. Those players are competing for their country and percentage could be important, so they must be expected to go full tilt at their smaller and less experienced opponents.

This isn't an issue of worrying about the little guy versus the big guy - plenty of smaller players are as tough as any going around. But in the case of lightly built players brand new to the game so not knowing how to protect themselves, sending them home with a few major injuries might not do much for the cause. Let's hope it doesn't play out that way, and against this theory is that the lower teams will feature a mix of players, e.g. India is expected to have some players with Australian experience, and the core coming from India are drawn from players with Rugby and soccer backgrounds, so perhaps the damage will be more on the scoreboard than physical.

Of course on the scoreboard the new teams can expect some terrible losses, but that isn't new to the International Cup, and they will at least get competitive matches in the finals rounds when they play off against their "peers". Any system that has all the teams in together necessitates that the top sides run into the bottom ones.

Seeding

Crucial to the format is the seeding that provides the pools, and overall the method appears to be quite reasonable. The purest system would have seeds 1 to 4 left to right across the top of the pools, followed by seeds 5 to 8 going right to left in the second row. Then left to right for the third row, and right to left for the bottom. So we could expect to see the 9 rankings (excluding absent Spain) at the end of the 2005 Cup, with the addition of Nauru and Denmark slotted in at 10 and 11, and with the five debutantes filling out the bottom spots. It hasn't worked out exactly that way.

Row one sees the seeds in order, but row two, from the right, would have Samoa, Great Britain, Canada and South Africa. However Canada have moved up (perhaps fair enough based on their win against the US earlier this year), South Africa move up (which given the resources pouring into footy there would be no surprise) and Samoa and Great Britain move down. The Samoans have some concerns regarding player eligibility and availability, but perhaps the Brits will feel hard done by, given they defeated Ireland last year. Some of the re-alignment is believed to be based on seeking desirable match-ups. Certainly Samoa (down three spots) and Canada (up two spots) are the only significant moves.

The third row makes sense, though Nauru and Denmark could be switched, but that would assume their relative rank remains unchanged since 2002. Sweden gets the nod as the highest ranked new nation, making third spot in Pool D - that appears appropriate given the longer history of their leagues, competitive matches against Denmark and recent win over Finland.

Finland have at least played Sweden, and have a local league, so are justified as the best of the fourth row. Next comes China, the Peace Team then India, with no real data to separate them.

Overall the seeding appears to be fairly sound, with a little bit of tweaking leaving the draw's integrity intact. In fact already there are suggestions a bit more tweaking was in order, to separate out European countries that already play regularly. Against that is that Canadians were hoping to meet the Americans at the Cup, despite their annual clashes, so perhaps such wishes will vary from country to country and person to person anyway.

What do you think of the draw?

worldfootynews.com will look at the likely winners later and invite reader feedback, but right now we're welcoming discussion of the draw in general. Is it fair? How about all the teams in one division? Any countries you're particularly disappointed didn't make it? For those with no particular affiliation, is there a nation you're particularly looking forward to seeing? Users must be registered and logged in, or create an account, to comment on articles.

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